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Hungarian and Bulgarian Interwar Revisionism: Part 4

Updated on May 4, 2012
Transylvanian coat-of-arms
Transylvanian coat-of-arms | Source

Many Hungarians resent the perceived fact that though Hungary served as a safe haven for many ethnic groups who were fleeing the Turkish invasion of the Balkans, these same groups turned against the Hungarians. Though the treatment of Hungary’s minority groups at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries has been condemned by the minority groups as well as western European governments of the time, there is a point to be made about the blowing up of the actual facts. It is quite safe to say the Hungary will never regain sovereignty over Transylvania, so one may ask, why bother with who should have Transylvania? It is Romania’s, and with the European Union expanding farther eastward and southward, in a few years it won’t even matter due to the ending of borders that will eventually come about between Romania and Hungary. Quite simply, it is to gain a moral victory, and peace of mind for one or the other country; either ‘yes, we were greatly wronged by Trianon’; or ‘yes, justice was finally served at Trianon’. This search for legitimacy shows few signs of abating, even though no change in the status quo of the border is comprehendable anymore to anyone but a few extremist Hungarian political groups. Now we turn to the lead-up of events which finally culminated with the Treaty of Trianon. World War I, and Hungary’s chaotic post-war political régimes only helped to intensify the later reactionism and conservativism, as well as the eventual irrationality of Hungarian foreign policy during the interwar years.

Anthem of the Szekler people of Transylvania (in Hungarian)

Count István Tisza
Count István Tisza | Source

Károlyi's failure and Béla Kun's Bolshevik Revolution

The facts of World War I have been covered ad nauseum since the end of that conflict, so won’t be covered again here. Instead, focus will be placed on some key areas concerning Hungary’s involvement and subsequent defeat. In human terms, the war itself was tragedy enough for Hungary. We see discrepancies within the number of casualties quoted by different historians, but this is usually the case. Count István Tisza, Premier of Hungary at the time, knew how weak the Hungarian army was. Since the 1870s he had pushed for the expansion and modernisation of the armed forces, but this fell to deaf ears in the Hungarian Parliament, due to the obstructionist tendency among opposition parties in pre-World War I Hungary. Obstructionist parties were those linked to the 1848 Revolution and pushing for a total break with Austria, and who wished to hinder any modernisation of the Hungarian army apart from the official use of the Hungarian language in officer to soldier relations. The obstructionist opposition parties in the Hungarian parliament constantly pushed for Hungarian being the official language amongst officers towards their soldiers in the Hungarian army, not German. Any calls for modernising the Hungarian forces within the Austro-Hungarian army were vehemently opposed by the opposition parties, despite the extent to which this hurt the army’s fighting capabilities. For this reason István Tisza, as head of government, was seen as a treasonous Hungarian who wished to strengthen the Austro-Hungarian army structure at the expense of Hungarian “cultural” rights. It is ironic that though seen as a traitor to Hungary, Tisza was the one who most clearly saw the need to defend Hungary against the consequences of a loss in any future war. In a speech made on 9 November 1911 at the War Council, Tisza said, “We must spend money on the army with all our might... Will anyone take the responsibility for an unready, deteriorating army which will prove unable to defend the Monarchy". Not only this, but Tisza was also opposed to extending the right to vote, as were most Hungarian liberals.

Though Tisza was seen by many Hungarians as being very pro-war, he was not. The Hungarian people were not aware of Tisza’s real stance on the war, all they knew was that he agreed to an attack on Serbia a week later, after some promises made by Austria in order to get him on board for a conflict with the Entente.

Thus Hungary’s fatal step and loss of the War. No diplomatic representatives voiced Hungary’s views in the West during this time, which proved to be a major mistake and oversight.

The lack of any positive Hungarian influence in the West was greatly detrimental to the Hungarian cause following World War I. Also, most Hungarian politicians insisted on keeping St Stephen’s borders intact, which already seemed like a lost cause. This stubborn single-mindedness definately did not help win Hungary any friends.


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